It’s 2014. How Are You Going to Show Up Differently?

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As 2014 gets underway, something profound is afoot among some of the world’s largest brands. They are doing things differently and challenging the status quo. Rather than being daunted by the prospect of change, they have the courage to embrace it, which I would argue is setting them up for a more successful future.

Embracing change isn’t easy. Look at the companies left on the proverbial cutting room floor such as Wang, Circuit City, Atari or Borders. They didn’t pay attention to industry and marketplace changes at their own peril.

Since the dawning of the Internet age, we’ve seen an extraordinary number of revolutionary developments – huge shifts in technology, the media and information flows to name but a few. While this change seems extraordinary and sometimes overwhelming, it helps to remember that change is the hallmark of every era. I often think about the fact that my grandmother, born in 1895, went from sleigh rides in Buffalo winters to driving a Camaro and benefiting from the arrival of the jet age. Dramatic change was a constant in her life.

Nearly a generation ago, when Samsung* needed to dramatically advance its business model, its chairman, Lee Kun-hee, challenged his workers to “change everything but your wife and children.” His was quite a clear call to action that nothing about the company’s operations or approach to the marketplace was sacred.

A recent profile in the New York Times on Samsung focused on the results of that now legendary exhortation and examined how the company is moving forward from its relatively new perch as global consumer electronics leader. While welcoming change, the company is driven by one constant: relentless reinvention. From creating Galaxy Gear to launching Jay Z’s album to its smartphone users, Samsung clearly is determined to show up differently for years to come.

Showing up differently is a business imperative if a company is to garner both the attention and loyalty of its target stakeholders. Consumer products powerhouse Unilever* showed up differently this past November when it launched Unilever Project Sunlight. It inspires all consumers to live more sustainably through the universal and beautifully captured stories of expectant parents around the globe. Based on the insight that having a child is a life moment where people reconsider their role in the world and their behaviors, Project Sunlight in its first week received more than 30 million views and sparked more than 40,000 conversations on Unilever’s social media channels.

In a world of data and algorithms, Unilever and many others are cutting through the clutter with simple, good storytelling and the human, emotional element of relating to one another. At Edelman, we believe strongly that in order for our clients to achieve their business objectives and connect with their target stakeholders, both they and we have to do as Unilever did and “show up differently.” This means, among many things, connecting in genuine and authentic ways with employees, customers and all types of people. It is not about being a slave to data, big or small, but rather it’s about leveraging data to guide, not dictate, a way forward.

Starbucks* has been showing up differently by doing just this. The company’s “Come Together” effort has encouraged all Americans to be active voices relative to what is or isn’t happening in Washington, D.C. As part of that effort, when the government shutdown disabled the White House’s “We the People” petition site, Starbucks used its stores and social media to gather almost 2 million signatures in just days urging constructive action and compromise on both the budget and long-term debt. None of this is just an episodic gimmick but rather about consistently engaging with people in an effort to drive positive change.

So as we enter a new year, it’s time for a new challenge. How can all of us find the courage to embrace change? How can we challenge the status quo? How can we tell the stories that propel change that matters, not just change for change’s sake? In short, how will you show up differently?

Matthew Harrington is Edelman’s global chief operating officer.

*Edelman client